Solar wind
Earth’s protective barrier – the magnetosphere – shields it from some of the effects of the supersonic solar wind. Credit: ESA

PARIS — European and Chinese space scientists, in what would be their first full-collaboration mission, have recommended that their governments join forces to build a satellite to study the solar wind’s effects on the Earth’s magnetosphere.

The Solar Wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer, or SMILE, mission would be launched in 2021 pending final approval late this year by the European Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The SMILE satellite would be launched into an inclined, elliptical Earth orbit with an apogee that would take it one-third of the way to the moon to observe the boundary between Earth’s magnetosphere and the solar wind.

ESA and China joined forces on the similar Double Star/Tan Ce missions, which together with ESA’s Cluster satellites operated between 2004 and 2008. SMILE would take their collaboration further to include joint mission design, development, launch and operations.

The two agencies issued a call for mission proposals in January and received 13 responses. SMILE was judged the most valuable following a peer review process.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.